We “Sounded the Drum” at the start of MFNERC’s 16th Annual Lighting the Fire Education Conference, and then kept right on going. As day one’s keynote speaker Dr. Verna Kirkness concurred, “We must answer the call of the drum and be architects of our own system.” And that is exactly what LTF aims to do. With timely discussions, knowledge sharing, and inspiring stories, day one of the conference brimmed with excitement and energy from start to finish.
After welcoming remarks from Lorne C. Keeper, Executive Director of MFNERC, and Debra Beach Ducharme, Education Director of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, two inspiring young people showed off their writing and presentation skills. Every year, Lighting the Fire holds a student essay contest, and First Nations students from around the province are invited to enter. This year’s topic was: “Sounding the Drums: Reclaiming our Rightful Place in Indigenous Education.“
Amy Blacksmith from Cross Lake First Nation was the first place winner in the Grade 7-9 category. At just 15 years of age, her strong, confident presentation displayed a maturity far beyond her years. And she inspired the room as she explained how she came to discover her culture and why that is so important for young people today.
The grade 10-12 winner was Martin Kematch from Chemawawin Cree Nation. He as well gave a poised and thoughtful presentation, extolling the importance of education, “It is the key for an outstanding future.” A member of the audience was even heard exclaiming, “We need [Martin] in Ottawa!”
Then, the opening ceremonies of Day One concluded with a Keynote Address by Dr. Verna Kirkness. Her focus was on her lifelong journey in Indigenous Education, as well as questions she is often asked about that journey.
After a quick break for lunch and a wander through the buzzing tradeshow, it was time for the workshops to get underway. Everything from Empowering your Inner Voice to JUMP Math to Storytelling was covered.
At the Land-Based Education: Results of an Action Research Study workshop, participants learned the step-by-step process of how educators incorporated land-based teaching into the grade 7 curriculum, with a focus on trapping and snowshoeing. Teacher, Charity Cooper explained, “We taught the students how to trap animals, and then how to dissect them to fulfill their science requirement. Foxes were easier than martins!…And we also taught them how to measure PSI (pounds per square inch) while snowshoeing.”
With that, it was the end of Day One. And with keynote speaker, Robb Nash and more workshops on deck for Day Two, not to mention the Lighting the Fire Banquet in the evening, the excitement was only just beginning.